By Lonnie Wilkey
NASHVILLE — When New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law one of the nation’s most comprehensive abortion laws earlier this year, he “woke a sleeping giant,” declared Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Davis was one of five pro-life proponents who appealed to a nine-member Tennessee Senate Judiciary Summer Study Committee Aug. 12 to join thousands of Tennessee Baptists and other evangelical Christians in standing for life in the Volunteer State. Longtime observers of the Tennessee Baptist Convention believe it may be the first time that a representative of the convention has addressed Tennessee senators on a major legislative issue. (Read the full text of Randy Davis’ statement to the Senate Study Committee and the audio podcast of his testimony can be found here.)
The Senate committee heard testimony from both pro-life and abortion advocates concerning the Tennessee Heartbeat Bill. Davis observed that the bill before the Senate committee is much stronger than a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives during their last session. The House bill outlawed abortion once a heartbeat was detected while the proposed Senate bill is an amendment to the House bill that recognizes that life begins at conception and this outlaws abortion on that basis.
“I’ll never forget the disbelief, the devastation, and the disgust I felt in that moment,” Davis said in his senate statement. He said he realized that Cuomo had “just signed the death sentence of thousands upon thousands of children.”
He told the senators, “I believe what happened in New York woke a sleeping giant. Life-loving Tennesseans, including nearly a million Tennessee Baptists, have just begun to rally for life. I stand before you today representing those Tennessee Baptists. We want you to know that we stand for life.”
Davis informed the senate committee that three weeks ago, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board launched a petition initiative called “I Stand for Life.” Holding a stack of petitions in the air, Davis said, “Thousands of Tennessee Baptists — and almost a thousand pastors to date — have indicated their support for legislation protecting Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens.
“I believe the bill before you today does just that, and on behalf of those million Tennessee Baptists living in your voting districts and scattered from Memphis to Mountain City and from Dyersburg to Ducktown, I encourage you to move this bill forward to the next legislative session for approval and then to Governor Lee for signing into law,” Davis said.
“As the chosen stewards of the great state of Tennessee, I encourage you to send a clear and convictional message to the people that you represent, that, you too, stand for life in Tennessee,” he continued.
Davis noted that bills such as the one under consideration are significant “because they come down to two fundamental issues: life and our collective responsibility to protect it.
“The degree to which we as a people value life — all life — determines the strength of the society in which we live.”
Davis reminded senators that Roe versus Wade “was the fulcrum upon which our society tipped into becoming a culture of death. Let’s be honest. Abortion is largely a violent form of birth control.”
He stressed that Tennessee Baptists support the passage of the proposed legislation “because it rightly acknowledges and protects life from conception.” He supported his position with Scripture.
- “The Bible’s first chapter tells us that God created human life in His image.
- “Psalm 139 says, ‘For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.’
- “God tells the prophet Jeremiah that, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.’
- “And we know that God values human life because He sent His son Jesus Christ to redeem broken humanity.”
Davis reminded senators that “arguments for abortion are shallow and require a denial of the facts.”
The TBMB leader exhorted the Tennessee legislators to not devalue life. “For too long, lawmakers have been determined to pass laws that protect unborn animals rather than in passing laws that protect unborn children. In our misguided passion for self-autonomy, we have lost the perspective of common sense.
“We are culturally adrift in a sea of relativism and are in desperate need of an anchor. Cultural stability begins when we recapture the value of life,” Davis said.
He encouraged the senators to ponder, “If we continue to devalue life, where does it end? … What you decide here and in the future does not just affect unborn children. It has far-reaching consequences that defines what Tennesseans collectively says about the value of all life, now and in the future.”
Davis implored the senate committee to not “be bullied by threats of economic boycott. As our leaders, you have a great moral responsibility before God and the people of Tennessee. You stand at the threshold of a most historic moment,” he observed, adding the challenging question, “What will you do with what you know?”
“History beckons you forward and your legacy as a public servant is waiting to be written. How will posterity remember you: As someone who stood for life and turn back the murderous tide of abortion, or someone who traded lives for economic development?”
He reminded the senators that Tennessee Baptists proudly stand for life. “With all sincerity, I pray that you, too, will stand for life, which is why I strongly encourage you to move this bill forward to become law. Send a clear message to all people everywhere that together, Tennesseans stand for life.”
After the two days of testimony, the nine-member panel will determine whether to terminate the bill in committee or recommend it be sent back to the full senate in its next legislative term.